Thursday, 11 May 2017
Competition and Consumer Legislation Amendment (Small Business Access to Justice) Bill 2017; Second Reading
I want to speak to the Competition and Consumer Legislation Amendment (Small Business Access to Justice) Bill 2017, but I feel it is important to address some of the comments that have been made by some of the previous senators in this debate. I will start by echoing some words from Senator Xenophon that he said towards Senator Macdonald—that he is very fond of the senator. Senator Xenophon, I am one of the many senators who are very fond of you, but even I at times have to question your judgement when it comes to friends! Senator Macdonald appeared to spend a large proportion of his time speaking on the bill. I will be speaking a little bit more broadly about other issues. I will take the precedent that we are able to have a wide-ranging debate on this issue.
I want to note the incredible work of Senator Gallagher from the Australian Capital Territory. I do not quite understand why this became a point of attack. Yes, Senator Gallagher is from the ACT. While at times—especially when we have to sit over long winters—we all question the ACT for many different reasons, I do not understand the idea that, because she is a senator from the territory that she represents, speaks to people from the territory that she represents and was the Chief Minister of the territory that she represents, it somehow means that she cannot possibly have had conversations with people outside of the ACT and cannot possibly have had conversations with people in Queensland or other places. I note that Senator Gallagher has actually spent more time in Queensland than the Treasurer of Australia. The Treasurer has not even visited Queensland this year, let alone the Northern Territory, which he has not visited, it appears, since becoming Treasurer. I cannot speak to Western Australia and other states.
I want to commend Senator Gallagher and her predecessor from the other place, the honourable member for Greenway, Michelle Rowland, for the work they have done on this bill. Senator Xenophon touched on this quite well: fundamentally, we in this country have a legal system that is not fair in practice, even when at times it may be fair in theory. There is a huge disconnect between what is the law and what is access to the law. What this bill attempts is to do what it can to close that gap in the legal system—it is not going to be perfect, because there is no perfect solution. We pass bills constantly in this place, and they all seem fantastic and great and they are equitable and fair and we have these great principles of 'everybody is equal before the law', as we should have those principles. At the same time we have a legal system where access to justice makes a big difference. In this particular case, access to justice relates to the power of large corporations, as opposed to the power of small businesses, when it comes to being able to access those legal remedies. That is the real problem, the real challenge, that we have to face and that this legislation attempts to face.
Here is the reality. I come from a family of small-business people. My parents had a small cake store in Castle Hill in the north-west of Sydney when I was growing up. They now own a small business in the Queen Victoria Building—a King of Knives kind of retail outlet. When you deal with small—